Rosemary Champion looking out across a field


Health & Safety for Smallholders: A Guide


Smallholdings can be dangerous places – after all, a smallholding is just a small farm and sadly, farms suffer from a poor safety record. In 2016/17, 27 people lost their lives on farms and many more suffered serious, life changing injuries. But there are lots of things you can do to protect not just yourself but any friends, family and visitors that come to visit. In the final of a six-part series in partnership with NFU Mutual, Rosemary Champion shares her advice.

“I might be known as the Accidental Smallholder online, but in reality I’m very aware of the many risks around my smallholding that could cause injury to either myself or others – including machinery, livestock, working practices and chemicals. Familiarity may not breed contempt but it can breed complacency, and that’s when accidents happen. Here are some of the things I’ve learned that could help keep yourself – and those around you – safe.

1. Chemicals

“We host school visits through the Royal Highland Education Trust. As part of that, we have to complete a fairly extensive risk assessment and that’s been useful in highlighting potential risks here on our smallholding – particularly around the safe handling of chemicals.

“Some of it might sound fairly obvious, but it can easily slip your mind if you’re not careful. Keep any substance that is potentially harmful to health – including herbicides, pesticides and wormers – in a locked cupboard, away from sight. Don’t decant substances out of the original container. Keep the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) data sheets in a folder that’s accessible. And keep any flammable liquids in the correct containers.

2. Livestock

“Most of us expect to get a few bumps and bruises when handling livestock but we certainly don’t want anyone – including ourselves – to suffer any serious injury. Often injuries occur without any aggressive intent by the animal – but a cow that’s low in the herd hierarchy will respect a ‘boss cow’ and get sharply out of the way, even if that means squashing you hard against a wall or gate.

“However, male animals and females with young can be aggressive – even those animals that have previously been fine. So always keep your eye on the animals for any change in behaviour that might be threatening, and have an escape route available. If at all possible, handle high-risk animals with a second person present – if things do go wrong, they can distract the animal while you get out of danger. And always, always carry a mobile phone with a decent charge on it.

3. Disease

“Often, we think about injury caused by accident but injury can also be caused by disease. Zoonoses are diseases of animals, usually vertebrates, which can be naturally transmitted to humans – for example, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, orf and ringworm.

“The Health and Safety Executive lists 27 zoonoses on its website – some are very rare, some cause only minor problems for humans and some are associated with one or two species of animal. However, some are potentially very serious, so if you keep livestock and poultry you would be advised to carry out a risk assessment – not just in respect of your own health but for those who may be visiting and whose resistance to bacteria, for example, may be less than your own.

4. Machinery

“Of course, machinery has the potential to be extremely dangerous. The joiner who worked on our house renovations lost his right arm when his jacket sleeve caught in a moving PTO shaft. When we bought our tractor, the farmer we bought it from arranged for Dan, my husband, to attend a tractor safety  training event – the first morning of which was spent illustrating the many ways in which machinery can maim or kill you. The farmer’s pithy safety advice was that “your bum doesn’t leave the seat while the key is in the ignition”. Simple, but we’ve never forgotten it.

5. Working practices

“Whilst any machinery with moving parts has the capacity to be dangerous, even more manual equipment can carry a risk if it’s not used right. A friend of ours knocked himself out with a manual post rammer, which bounced back up and hit him in the face. Ladders and working at height are also potentially dangerous – so take the time to assess the risk and reduce it.

Have the right insurance cover

“As a backstop, you should make sure you have appropriate insurance cover in place. If you are selling produce, you’ll need product liability and if folk other than immediate family are coming on to your holding, you will need public liability insurance – plus the usual buildings, contents and vehicle insurance. It’s worthwhile taking expert advice so that you have adequate – but not excessive – cover in place. But, having done that, it’s better to avoid the problems in the first place by assessing the risks and taking steps to reduce them.

Get expert advice

“NFU Mutual has extensive expertise in risk assessment and reduction, running training courses across the UK. And if you don’t have time to attend a training course, they have developed a useful tool that allows you to assess risks on your own holding online.

“Smallholding is a rewarding experience – don’t let a preventable accident or illness spoil it for you and your family. Stay safe.”

Find out more about how to operate safely on your farm or smallholding.